Colour and design, together with paint handling, were to be among Lowry's great strengths, which he worked hard to perfect. The attention to his painting technique also extended to his treatment of subject, which he took very seriously. He wanted to paint what he called 'the battle of life', and this did not just mean putting the industrial scene on the artistic map. Lowry's ambition was to record the human animal in all its manifestations; he was an observer of humanity in all its moods. Going to the Match is an examination of the joy that illuminated hard lives after the factory whistle blew every Saturday, as well as a wider allegory of Lowry's 'battle of life'. The happy throng offers the other side of the grim reality of working in an industrial city: people of all ages enjoying the almost ritualistic Saturday afternoon football.
The Saturday afternoon football match was one of Lowry's greatest and most popular subjects. He was painting during English football's golden age: the era of Stanley Matthews and Sir Matt Busby, which was to culminate in the World Cup victory of 1966. The Football Match (1949, sold in these Rooms, 29 May 2011, lot 140 for £5,641,250, a world record price for the artist; a record which was matched by the sale of Piccadilly Circus, London, 1960, in these Rooms on 16 November 2011, lot 7). In the present work the stadium is just visible between the two buildings: its familiar red flag and stands based loosely on Lowry's memories of Bolton Wanderers' ground at Burnden Park. In 1909, when the artist was twenty two, his family moved to 117 Station Road, in the industrial suburb of Pendlebury and almost in Burnden Park's shadow. Going to the Match seems to be a vivid recollection of these pre-war games, with their huge attendances, and rippling lines of fans queuing to pass through the turnstiles.
Football was always close to Lowry's heart. As the present work shows, his interest was not simply focussed on the pitch; instead, Lowry saw the game as an integral part of life. Indeed the pitch does not even feature here. The main element is the crowd - the busy figures hurrying with an absolute sense of purpose, funnelled between the two buildings, drawing the eye with them. Lowry explored the subject of going to, or being at, a football match several times. He was fascinated by the concept of a mass of individuals converging on a single point, with a single purpose in view. There is something almost ritualistic about the passion and unquestioning loyalty of the throng depicted here: as the leading sports writer Brian Glanville writes 'these figures, typical Lowry figures in the lean economy with which they are portrayed, might almost be on their way to church.' This passion and wholehearted devotion which Lowry depicts remain central truths upon which the game relies today.
Lowry's aim is to capture the jubilance of a post-war afternoon in England. However, the common theme in many such landscapes is that Lowry's people can never quite escape the industrialisation that surrounds them. Indeed, the composition's suggestion of the football match is only just discernable in the picture. The title of the work aside, it could be that the mass of individuals is in fact the city's population rushing to work. As Michael Howard (Lowry: A Visionary Artist, Salford, 2000, pp. 135-36) has pointed out, 'Lowry's reduction of his living figures to the role of automata suggests a lot about his own private impulses; at the same time his puppets offer a well-worn but effective metaphor for the de-humanising effects of the industrial process. His doll-like forms, his stage-like settings, the very artifice of his artistic practice and his calculated distance as the maker of these images are the very reasons surely that Lowry's canvases are so powerful and evocative of the factory worker's lot. Even outside their working hours, Lowry seems to say, on their way to or from the mill, they cannot escape the industrial system which during working hours controls their bodies and restricts their freedom of mind'.
The previous owner of the present work, The Reverend Geoffrey Bennett (1902-1991) was a lifelong friend of the artist who assembled one of the most impressive collections of the artist's works. There was an old-fashioned formality about their relationship, they always referred to each other as 'Mr Lowry' and 'The Reverend Gentleman' (after his ordination as an Anglican clergyman in 1962) and when Lowry died in February 1976, Reverend Bennett conducted the funeral service. The sale of the Reverend Bennett's collection was held at Christie's, London, on 23 March 1995. The 13 lots totalled £528,440: a record-breaking auction which changed the Lowry market. The proceeds from the sale were divided equally to go to the impoverished clergy and the restoration of Carlisle Cathedral.